Though breast-feeding may have multiple benefits for both mom and baby, it's not without its dangers. One woman is opening up about her son's death on what would have been his 5th birthday, and warning others about what can happen when breast isn't necessarily best.
"I wanted to share for a long time about what happened to Landon, but I always feared what others would say and how I’d be judged," Jillian Johnson wrote in a blog post for Fed Is Best. "I share his story in hopes that no other family ever experiences the loss that we have."
Johnson explained that as she prepared to have a baby, "every class and book was geared toward breastfeeding and how it’s so important if you want a healthy child." She and her husband even made sure that their son, Landon, was born in a "baby-friendly hospital, which was geared towards breastfeeding."
After he was born via emergency c-section, Landon was exclusively breast-fed, and although lactation consultants said that "he had a great latch and was doing fine," one noted that Johnson may have been having trouble producing milk, citing her PCOS as a cause. But after hospital staff evaluated her risk factor for milk production problems, they had Landon continue to exclusively breast-feed even though he would cry unless he was on his mother's breast. (Doctors told her that this was called "cluster feeding.")
"I trusted my doctors and nurses to help me through this—even more so since I was pretty heavily medicated from my emergency C-section and this was my first baby," she wrote.
In just 53 hours, Landon had lost 9.72% of his birth weight, but doctors discharged him from the hospital after three days and told Johnson to keep breast-feeding.
"So we took him home... not knowing that after less than 12 hours home with us, he would have gone into cardiac arrest caused by dehydration," she wrote.
After getting home, Landon fell asleep while cluster feeding and became unresponsive. And after 15 days on life support, he passed away.
Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, MD, an emergency physician with a background in newborn brain injury research at Brown University, weighed in on Johnson's post, explaining that Landon had shown two signs of newborn starvation that doctors should have noticed.
"If a child is receiving a fraction of their caloric requirement through early exclusive breastfeeding, they can experience severe hunger and thirst, which is why they will cry inconsolably and breastfeed continuously when it is the only source of calories and fluid they are offered," she wrote.
Five years later, Johnson is sharing her story to warn others that breast-feeding comes with its own set of dangers.
"The best advice I was given by one of his NICU doctors while he was on life support is sure breast is best, but follow with the bottle," she wrote. "This way you know your baby has eaten enough… if only I could go back in time."